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FINDING FORRESTER

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Review by Gordon Justesen

 

Stars: Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes, Rob Brown
Director: Gus Van Sant
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: April 24, 2001

Film ***1/2

Last year gave us not one, but two extraordinary movies that explore the subject of writing and writers. The first was the wonderful Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas, and the other is Gus Van Sant’s superb drama Finding Forrester, which is about a special bond that develops between a once renowned author and a brilliant young boy. The movie bares numerous similarities to the director’s Good Will Hunting, but it still comes off as a very involving human drama, but this time it’s more about how the young man teaches the older, wiser man rather than the other way around.

The character of William Forrester (Sean Connery) could very much be considered as Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys, only much older and not experiencing a huge midlife crisis. Forrester had written one novel in his life called Avalon Landing, which was considered a masterpiece. He then withdrew from public life, residing to an apartment in the south Bronx, and is never seen anywhere but in his window. To the young urban youths who play at a basketball court right below the apartment building, he is referred to as The Window. One of the kids, 16-year-old Jamal (Rob Brown), agrees to sneak up in the man’s apartment to steal something only to find out what kind of person the mysterious man may be. The boys suspect him of being some kind of murderer. Jamal is then suddenly caught in the act, and runs immediately out of the building, and leaving his backpack behind. When he does get his books back, he notices some new markings in his english notebooks, and some very positive ones at that.

Jamal turns out to be both an outstanding basketball talent and a brilliant mind who fails to admit his gift to his friends. Amazed by the comments that Forrester made in his notes, he revisits Forrester, and the two begin a series of low profile tutoring sessions, on a condition that Jamal does not reveal the old man’s whereabouts. He also advises Jamal not to ask any questions about his wife, family, or why he wrote just one book. The boy’s writing impresses even that of a prestigious private academy, where he is eventually accepted at, to proceed in his writing talents as well as play basketball. It is there where one of the literary professors named Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) judges a book by its cover, thinking that a black 16 year old basketball player from the Bronx can’t write at the kind of level that Jamal appears to be writing at. This leads to a clash between Jamal and the literary board, whom Jamal tries to thoroughly convince that it is he who did indeed write the assignments, even if it means bringing Forrester out of hibernation to prove so.

To simply have the older, wiser Forrester educate the potential-filled Jamal would be the safe route, but Finding Forrester goes a lot deeper than your average teacher/student film. Jamal teaches Forrester to bring himself out of hibernation and realize why it was he gave up writing after so long. A touching moment is seen when Jamal takes Forrester to an abandoned baseball diamond, which holds a unique place in Forrester’s life. It is then when Forrester confesses why he has become what he is.

The movie, like Good Will Hunting, draws you in from scene one, and at times, gives you a feeling of inspiration, like the earlier film very much did. Writing is rarely covered in the movies, and Finding Forrester knows a lot about the process and energy that go along with it. Sean Connery is simply magnificent in the lead role, which the academy unfortunately overlooked. It’s perhaps his greatest performance since Jim Malone in The Untouchables, and newcomer Rob Brown is a remarkable discovery as Jamal. Brown reportedly had no acting experience prior to this movie, and yet he is never unconvincing for a single second. There is some very good supporting work from Anna Paquin as a sort of love interest for Jamal, though the story never really hits a romance story note, and rap star Busta Rhymes, who was a riot in the remake of Shaft is fun to watch as Jamal’s older brother. F. Murray Abraham does give the feeling of your typical adversary in a movie of this nature, though I must say his performance reminded me very much of one of my first english professors in college who really made my skin crawl in every just about every class, which was unique for me to see. There’s even a surprise appearance by Will Hunting himself, Matt Damon, near the end of the film, though he sort of resembles his lawyer character from The Rainmaker without the southern accent.

A lineup of truly great acting and a poignant story at hand make Finding Forrester the triumph that it is. It follows a familiar formula, but builds an extraordinary bond between two remarkable individuals at a crucial time in each other’s lives. If it’s grand storytelling you’re interested, Finding Forrester is all that you need to find.

Video **

Columbia Tri Star got this title out in a flash following its theatrical run, so that’s maybe why this particular disc is somewhat of a letdown. Though this is an anamorphic presentation, the transfer disc left me somewhat unimpressed. Columbia Tri Star has had an impressive track record lately, with both old (Krull) and new (The 6th Day) titles, but Finding Forrester isn’t in the same league as far as video quality is concerned. For the most part, the picture is soft and hazy, with a little grain here and there. Every now and then, good color contrast and clearness will present itself, but I mostly detected softness in the image for most of the viewing. The most questionable aspect is that the disc is dual layered. If it was double-sided, I might understand why it looks the way it does.

Audio ***1/2

Nothing to rant about here, as there is a quite fantastic job here in the audio department. Columbia Tri Star delivers a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 track which picks up music and several distinct background sounds with perfect delivery. What was mostly lacking in the video department is more than made up for in the audio area.

Features ***

Not of the grandest amount, but very acceptable use of extras on this disc, which include two featurettes, one is the HBO First Look Special on the Making of the film, and the other is titled “Found: Rob Brown”, which talks about how Rob got the part to his and others’ surprise. Also included are two deleted scenes of the high school choir, and theatrical trailers for this movie and three other Columbia Tri Star titles: First Knight, Fly Away Home, and To Die For.

Summary:

Finding Forrester is feel-good movie entertainment at its very best. If Good Will Hunting marveled you, then you will likely get the same kind of feeling from watching this superb film.